The Matrix (1999) Series: Analyzing Propaganda

Last updated: June 26th 2023

(Excerpted from my forthcoming The Matrix (1999) analysis.)

Analyzing propaganda #

This is a movie critique.

It's just that the storytelling layer is not my foundation (like it is for your average movie YouTuber, for example.)

Here, we're delving several levels beneath that.

Postmodernism will be used #

The film itself, the Wachowskis, and the more "intellectual" fans have always claimed to be postmodernists, or at least influenced by postmodernism.

So I say we adopt a postmodern-y angle too.

Ie. Does this postmodern work survive a postmodern inspection?

We don't need to get too crazy. We just need to keep in mind some basic tenets of Postmodernism 101: There's no such thing as absolute / objective truth or value. And no assumption or familiar notion should be safe from "deconstruction."

Enter Foucault #

In fact, I'll let one of the main intellectual rockstars of Postmodernism say it:

"A critique does not consist in saying that things aren't good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based."
Michel Foucault, philosopher, feminist, pedophile.

Sounds good to me. That's the type of critique I will be doing here.

"To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy."
–Michel Foucault.

Well, I think it's been too easy for the Wachowskis to get away with the pretense of, to name one example, being "open minded" and "just asking questions." Let's ask some questions!

Simulated open-mindedness #

Consider that making a big spectacle (such as eg. producing a Hollywood sci-fi movie) while essentially shouting "Hey everyone, maybe this is all a simulation!" could just be someone's simulation of what they think being open-minded is.

Also, we're not doing symbols #

Let's not do symbol or puzzles or any Da Vinci Code shit here.

Yes, I know "Neo," "Morpheus," "Trinity," "Nebuchadnezzar," and other names were "chosen for a reason." Yes, I know lots of numbers and colors and shapes and sounds also have this or that symbolic meaning.

Those surface-level symbolic one-to-one mappings don't interest me.

Eg. If you have a comment about how in some Buddhist book a monkey's vagina is represented as a bent spoon, and this gives "There is no spoon" a new mind-blowing meaning, that's cool, but I don't care.

(For that kind of symbolism, go to the Matrix wiki.)

So what are we doing? #

We're exploring core premises and framing.

We're going to talk about the dialogs and events that reveal how the Wachowskis frame the discussion. Anything that shows the values and philosophy underneath the explicit philosophies they intellectualize and consciously put in the movie.

Because there's this thing filmmakers love to say about their films, which goes something like:

"I'm not pushing my views on the audience. My movie is just posing questions, to Generate Conversation."
–The Filmmaker.

Which is all well and good, except they're leaving out the fact that their questions can and do frame the conversation.

Questions frame discourse #

Suppose I asked you:

"Does licking extraterrestrial souls give you cravings for boiled prime numbers, or does it satiate you for a century?"
–Zander Noriega.

Am I "just asking questions"?

Sure. I'm "just" Sparking Conversation. I'm "not feeding you answers."

But you can see my question also carries a ton of premises (at least seven), that frame the conversation within a specific (insane) world of my choice.

For a The Matrix (1999) example: The Wachowskis make the assumption that there's a True Self that a person can "Find." We're not gonna let that notion pass free from "Deconstruction."

Sequels aren't relevant #

Keep in mind that I will not be taking the sequels into account here.

If you think there are plot holes or problems that are "fixed" or "not really plot holes once you consider the sequels," that's cool. You go and write your own analysis that way.

(I don't care about "plot holes" anyway. That's surface-level talk for 15-min movie reviews on YouTube. We're not criticizing storytelling ability here.)

This analysis is about the foundational premises of the Wachowskis, and how they show themselves in the story.

And The Matrix (1999)'s story was conceived as a standalone story.

The extended lore, the Architect's industrial dose of exposition, etc. were concocted after the 1999 movie's commercial success, which caused Warner Bros to ask for the 2003 sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions.

Resurrections even less #

The fourth film, The Matrix Resurrections (2021), was made years after the Wachowskis had said they were basically repulsed by the idea of another sequel.

For example, in 2015, while promoting Jupiter Ascending (2015), Lilly Wachowski called a return to The Matrix a "particularly repelling idea in these times."

But personal tragedies in the late 2010s made Lana Wachowski want to see Neo and Trinity alive again, and the 4th film was born, as a sort of Lana Wachowski self-therapy exercise. Lily wasn't involved.

Plus she co-wrote the movie with two writers who in an interview said they had a list of things the wanted to accomplish with this film, including:

"Things like the Red Pill/Blue Pill trope or meme and how it was kidnapped by the right-wing. The verb 'to red pill' and so on. So one thing we were mindful of is how to reclaim that trope. To renew the meaning of Red Pill/Blue Pill." –Aleksandar Hemon

(Because, as you know, if a trope or symbol ever becomes right wing, we better renew it ASAP! No right-wing thinking allowed, comrades!)

Resurrections is transparent #

Whereas the Wachowskis used to say The Matrix (1999) was about Sparking Conversation (a faulty notion I've already addressed), with Resurrections Lana and her co-writers cut the bullshit and don't even pretend to be storytelling to spark conversation.

Resurrections is Lana straight-up going:

"Here's what I think about making sequels. Here's what I think about therapists. Here's what I think about the previous Matrix films. Here's what I want 'red pill' to mean now. If you disagree, you're probably a blue-pill."

You gotta give them credit for the transparency, I suppose.

However this transparency does make the movie less enjoyable to watch, and less interesting for my analysis.

References #

  1. (Text/HTML) Postmodernism and Its Critics @
  2. (Text/HTML) Michel Foucault @ Wikipedia
  3. (Text/HTML) French petition against age of consent laws @ Wikipedia
  4. (Text/HTML) The Matrix Wiki @
  5. (Text/HTML) The Matrix Revolutions @ Wikipedia
  6. (Text/HTML) The Matrix Revolutions @ Wikipedia
  7. (Text/HTML) Lily Wachowski in 2015 on sequels @ Wikipedia
  8. (Text/HTML) The Matrix Resurrections @ Wikipedia
  9. (Text/HTML) Interview with co-writers Aleksandar Hemon and David Mitchell @ AVClub